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India- Have your heard of our very own Bob Dylan – Gaddar ?

But the revolutionary poet-singer from Telangana is iconic in his radical creativity and pursuit of social justice.

  • But a bird that stalks
  • Down his narrow cage
  • Can seldom see through
  • his bars of rage
  • his wings are clipped and
  • his feet are tiedso he opens
  • his throat to sing.

— Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?

Maya Angelou’s poetic quest, Why don’t you sing, or, why the caged bird sings resonates well in the present socio-political context in India. The quest especially draws our attention as the Emergency anniversary forms a backdrop to times when the state, more than ever, is trying to silence dissident voices.

The enduring harassment of the artists of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) in Maharashtra, the arrest of folk singer Kovan in Tamil Nadu and the story of Jiten Marandi in Jharkhand, whose trial inspired the making of the award-winning movie, Court, are just a few examples of such harassment.

court690_062818044601.jpgArtist in the dock: A still from Court

Recently, the Maharashtra police registered an FIR against the members of the KKM for all the most bizarre reasons — these include ‘provocative speeches’, ‘promoting enmity’ between two communities and having links with ‘Urban Naxals’.

But the most fundamental reason the authorities do not state is this — ‘Why do they sing?’

kab690_062818044428.jpgMembers of the Kabir Kala Manch continue to be harassed

Singing becomes an act of rebellion. In the eyes of the state, it is a language of provocation. The song as an inciting form of speech is a new entry into the nationalist project of Indian keywords. Singing as an act of rebellion is the larger background against which a particular singer began to be recognised as representing rebellion — Gaddar (a misspelling of the Urdu word ‘Ghadar’ or ‘Gadar’).

Every region in India has its own story of the caged bird. But one artist who can be considered unparalleled and a trendsetter in the art and act of rebellion is Gaddar from Telangana. He embodies the mother of all caged birds.

gadar690_062818045059.jpgThe voice of rebellion

Nearing his 70s now, the revolutionary balladeer discarded his real name — Gummadi Vittal Rao — and become the metaphor of the rebellion. Gaddar has seen life inside out. From the experience of untouchability, to being a daily wage labourer, living an underground life in forests, to being a caged bird in an Indian jail to a near-fatal escape with a bullet in his body, Gaddar has closely witnessed both life and death.

He has become a living legend in the Telugu-speaking region in India. The name ‘Gaddar’ stands for the Urdu word Ghadar — the rebellion — the spirit, for instance, of the Gaddar movement founded by Punjabi immigrants in the United States and Canada to overthrow British rule in India in 1913. Gummadi Vittal Rao, in the process of claiming that spirit of the past, has become the spirit in the present.

Born in 1948, a year after Independence, the cultural radical has been struggling since to find the meaning of that independence for the downtrodden in India. His songs and satires are full of observations and ironies.

‘Friend, I was born in a free India – in 70 years of my life, after seeing the situation of Dalits in India, I could not understand the meaning of that freedom.’

As an individual, Gaddar carries a larger-than-life persona. He tries to distance himself with that figure in his formal conversations. To my surprise, when we met, he rarely used Gaddar as a first person in conversation.

Not even with a slip of the tongue did he utter, I did this or I didn’t do this. He would rather say, ‘You need to understand why people listened to Gaddar and joined the revolutionary movement.’

In a strange paradox, Gaddar de-familiarised Gaddar.

I felt Gaddar would not write his autobiography — but a biography is equally flabby for him. Writing a biography of the rebel would be breaking the language and genre of biography itself. After all, he is an iconoclast who incessantly broke the structure of language. An anecdote goes that he influenced the great Telugu poet Sri-Sri to come out of his linguistic ghetto and write in the people’s language.

It is difficult to make out when he is recounting his own experiences and when he is creating an epic out of one particular experience. The essence of the poet is that he cannot be captured. He does not fit into a specific genre. He does not fit into a one-to-one question-answer session.

Thus, when he speaks, let him speak. When he listens, let him be a listener.

‘Now you forget that you are from JNU, you are a professor, researcher, this and that. Now you listen about Gaddar,’ he says.

And I do.

When he is happy, he sings; when he suffers from anxiety, he sings. He sings in pain and suffering. When he gets angry, he sings, he sings when things fall apart. He sings as a keeper of memory, he sings as an advocate of justice, he leaps and sings as a free bird out of the cage.

Whenever he feels silenced, he breaks into song.

He becomes self while singing, he embodies others while singing. He becomes the mother of revolutionaries when he sings. He sings as Gaddaranna for the Telugu masses. He craves equality and justice through his songs. He sings about the birth of revolution, he sings about the death of revolutionaries. His song is life and death. Gaddar is made of the song.

When he survived a near-fatal attack in 1997, he keeps singing — with a bullet in his body.

Every time he sings, he proves that Gaddar — the Rebellion — is made of rhythms.

Gaddar in the film Maa Bhoomi, written and produced by B Narasing Rao of the Art Lovers Association (ALA), Hyderabad

Gaddar’s famous song on Telangana

He could have become a figure like Federico Garcia Lorca if he was born outside caste-based Indian society. Karthik Venkatesh rightly remarked that Gaddar is the [Bob] Dylan we don’t talk about. He is the cultural phenomenon we don’t recognise. Google ‘popular banned artists around the world’ — despite his story, you will not find his name there. (One finds Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan and others whose performances were at times banned). From Walid Raad of Lebanon to the Beatles of Britain and MF Hussain from India, we all love our banned artists. But being a radical, Gaddar does not figure into the debates of censorship. As a matter of fact, he faced a ban and censorship rarely faced by any other singer-performer in India.

bob690_062818045551.jpgGaddar is the [Bob] Dylan we don’t talk about

amy690_062818045741.jpgAmy Winehouse’s performance was banned several times

hussain690_062818045921.jpgMF Hussain was punished merely for being an artist

Still, he does not care whether you write about him or not. He has faith that people will remember him. One day, he gets angry with me and says, ‘Who cares if you don’t write. Pandits did not write about Kabir — did they stop Kabir from flowering in peoples’ minds? Upper castes tried hard to hide the compositions of Saint Tukaram — did they succeed?’

kab690_062818050215.jpgNo one could stop Kabir from flowering in peoples’ minds.

He is in his late 60s — but the passion of the late 60s is not over yet.

He joined the cultural movement when he was in his late 20s. It was just after the Naxalite movement in India. He came in contact with a small group called Art Lovers Association (ALA) in the suburbs of Hyderabad.

The group comprised filmmakers, theatre and cultural activists. The group came in contact with members of Virasam (acronym for the Revolutionary Writers’ Association). The group changed its name from ALA to Jana Natya Mandali.

It was the start of a new dawn that transformed Gummadi into Gaddar.

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कश्मीरः कुछ सवाल #Poem

महेन्द्र सिहं पूनिया

क्या चिनार के पेड़ पर
एक भी पत्ता नहीं है
आबरुरेज़ा दोशीज़ा का तन ढकने को ?
क्यों  झुक गया है पोपलर का
आकाश में तना हुआ शीश ?
क्यों रो रहे हैं विलो
झेलम के किनारे सिर झुकाए हुए ?

क्यों सारी की सारी कांगड़ियाँ
ठण्डी हो गई हैं
और शीतल घाटियाँ आग उगल रही हैं ?
क्यों सारे के सारे मर्ग
बन्द से नज़र आते हैं
और क्यों खुल गए हैं
कलाशिंकोवों के मुँह ?

मैं पूछता हूँ क्यों आग लगी थी
शांति और भाईचारे के प्रतीक चरार में ?
क्या यही था संदेश
वली नुरुद्दीन नूरानी का ?

रात के अँधेरे में,निवड़ एकान्त में
मुझे लगता है कि वादी में
हब्बा खातून विलाप कर रही है
और लल्ल दद्दू की चीखें
मेरे सीने को चीर रही हैं।

क्यों बार-बार बूटों तले
रौंदी जाती हैं दोशीजाएँ मेरे गाँव की
और क्यों होती है उनकी आबरू रेज़ा-रेज़ा
कभी इस तो कभी उस वहशी के हाथों ?

क्यों बार-बार जलता है घर मेरा
और क्यों लापता हो रहे हैं जवान मेरे गाँव के
क्यों सारे के सारे शिकारे सुनसान पड़े हैं
और क्यों अमरनाथ के सारे रास्ते पर
मशीनगनें तैनात हैं।

ऐसा कभी तो न था मेरा कश्मीर
इस कदर बिगड़ी हुई तो न थी ये तस्वीर ?

मैं पूछता हूँ किसने आग लगाई है
अमन के इस चमन में
भाईचारे के वतन में
और हमारे तन-बदन में ?
क्यों चुप हैं
हमारे खैरख़्वाह होने का दावा करने वाले
और क्यों ख़ामोश हैं
कश्मीर को अपना कहने का
दम भरने वाले ?

मैं पूछता हूँ इनकी चिन्ताओं में
कश्मीर तो है,पर कहाँ कश्मीरी अवाम है ?
क्या कश्मीर सिर्फ
ज़मीन के टुकड़े का नाम है ?

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India – Anti-caste poet Lokshahir Shantanu Kamble passes away in Nashik at the age of 39 #RIP

By Daisy Katta,

In a terrible jolt to the Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra, Shahir Shantanu Kamble, a 39-year-old poet on whose life the movie ‘Court’ was based, died in Nashik. Shahir Shantanu Kamble belonged to the fierce tradition or Vidrohi Shahiri (Resistance poetry performance) in Maharashtra’s anti-caste movement. Kamble, who originally belonged to Atpadi Taluka in Sangli, was a son of a labourer Napha Kamble and came to Mumbai in early 2000 to work in an NGO. He spent many years staying at the Barkat Ali Chawl in Wadala area of Mumbai.

Kamble is survived by his wife Deepali. According to people close to the family, Kamble had been ill for some time and died of a stomach ailment.

Growing up in Atpadi, Shantanu Kamble witnessed oppression of castes first hand. He grew up in a culture which was enriched by various forms of art and performances like lok geet and jalsas related to the anti-caste movement.

Speaking about Shantanu Kamble, actor and activist Vira Sathidar recalls, “It was when he came to Mumbai that his poetry was sharpened ideologically. I remember that whenever he would preside over any meeting in Mumbai, he would first start by telling the people about the history of poetry and music, why and how it was created and how it came into being, and what is the connection between poetry and the shramik (Labourers)”.

“where firsts raise against injustice
where small birds fight against eagles
from this battleground, you come muffled in blood-sandal
you come, you come, you come
breaking shackles, you come….”

( Shantanu Kamble performing Samtechya Vatene)

Kamble’s poetry and songs not only encompassed the realities of caste oppression, exploitation and inequality but also that of humanity and human relations. He penned one of his most popular songs Dalitare halla bol na…Shramika re halla bol na (Dalits raise your voice..labourers raise your voice!) after the gruesome Khairlanji Caste Atrocity which took place in 2006 in Maharashtra. He was one of the founding members of the Kabir Kala Manch but left it soon after its inception to work with Republic Panthers.

( Shantanu Kamble performing Dalita re halla bol na)

In 2005, he was accused by the Nagpur police of having Naxalite connections, however, he was later acquitted after spending around 100 days in jail. The 2014 National award-winning Marathi movie “Court” was based on his life where is friend Vira Sathidar played the lead character of Narayan Kamble.

Sahiri has been a long tradition of rebellious songs in Maharashtra’s anti-caste movement. The tradition of Shahiri was popularised by Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in 1873 in his Satyashodhaks Jalsas to bring people together and to protests against the upper castes oppression the medium of songs and theatre. These traditions were taken forward during the beginning of anti-caste movement in the 1920s with the rise of Babasaheb Ambedkar. This era saw a resurgence of Shahiri in form of Ambedkari Jalsas which took the message of anti-caste oppression and liberation to the masses. Unlike the upper caste poetry and performances practised by Brahmins, Shahiri was a form of a mass folk art of songs and performance which was in the language of the masses.

The tradition of Shahiri was taken forward by a host of people like Shahir Bhimrao Kardak, Wamandada Kardak, Lokshahir Annabhau Sathe, Lokshahir Vithhal Umap, Shahir Vilas Ghogare and Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat to name a few. Songs like Jaltoy Marathwada (Marathwada is burning) by Sahir Vilas Ghogare become the song of the Namantar Movement in Maharashtra.

Throughout his short life but fruitful life, Shantanu Kamble was part of many organisations like BHARIP of which he was the head of Nashik Division. But he spent a majority of his time dedicated to Republican Panthers, a cultural revolutionary organisation which came into existence after the 1997 Ramabai Nagar Atrocity in Mumbai.

Vira Sathidar met his old friend Shantanu Kamble in May. Recalling the incident, Sathidar told “When I asked him ‘What has happened to you’ Shantanu Kamble replied, ‘This is all a part of a journey to become Ghalib’.”

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Let us have ‘Open Auction’ To ‘Buy’ and ‘Sell’ ‘MLAs and MPs’

-Rohit Prajapati

Let us have a Market-ocracy

Where after All Election Results

An Open Auction

For 24 hours

To Buy and Sell MLAs and MPs

In a Transparent Bid

Just the Way it’s done in IPL Cricket

Auctions every Six Months or in a Year


Re-elect or form New Government.

Its democracy in Free Market Economy

Profits only Matter, not the rule book.

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Madhya Pradesh BJP MLA says child marriage will put an end to elopement, ‘love jihad’ #WTFnews

Linking late marriages to “love jihad” — a term used by Hindutva forces for marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men — the BJP leader said girls are “emotional” and that they “get carried away” when someone offers to help them by changing name and identity.

BJP MLA Gopal Parmar (Source: ANI/twitter)

Holding late marriages responsible for elopement and “love jihad”, a BJP legislator from Madhya Pradesh on Saturday said that he supports early marriages because child marriages, including those involving grooms and brides who never saw each other before, used to last “forever”, unlike divorces that are commonplace today. “Earlier girls and boys used to marry before they turned 18 and 21. Marriages were fixed when they used to be of tender age, and did not go astray…or (they did not) think of anyone else. Now they meet at coaching classes and some fall prey to vices like ‘love jihad’,’’ BJP MLA from Agar, Gopal Parmar, told The Sunday Express while defending the comments he made at a government function in Agar town.

Linking late marriages to “love jihad” — a term used by Hindutva forces for marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men — the BJP leader said girls are “emotional” and that they “get carried away” when someone offers to help them by changing name and identity. “I married as a child, and I ensured that marriages of my children — two daughters and a son — were fixed before they attained the legal age of marriage,” Parmar, 53, said. “They are all happy.”

Stating that no one had heard of divorces when child marriages were practised, Parmar said, “The groom and bride used to be unfamiliar with each other, but marriages would work because parents used to apply their mind and fix marriages between compatible children.” Drawing a parallel between tethered cattle and children, he said, “Once the marriage is fixed, they know where to return.’’ Parmar said he would not make a recommendation in writing to the government to lower the legal age of marriage but expects parents to fix marriage of their children much before so that they do not go astray.

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‘ Apolitical Intellectuals’ by Otto rene Castillo, Guatemalan Poet and activist

Every one who raises her voice is speaking for herself and for her people, her country and her values. If the power nexus calls us seditious or anti national , or anything to condemn us , don’t be disheartened….struggle on …

Image result for A poem (Otto rene Castillo, Guatemalan Poet and activist

One day
the apolitical
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
born in the shadow
of the total life.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

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Poem- I sent the horses back home #JusticeForAsifa


By- Parvathy Mira

I sent the horses trotting,
And they found their way back home.

But, I couldn’t.
My legs that you thought were
Swift as those of a deer,
They froze.
Maai, they froze.

But I sent the horses home.

Maai, them monsters,
They had no horns or fangs,
Or deadly long nails.
But they hurt me.
They hurt me bad, Maai.
The purple flowers,
The yellow butterflies,
They stood there helpless.

While I sent the horses back home.

Tell Baba that I know,
I know,
I know he tried.
I heard him say out my name,
I heard him repeat it loud.
I was sleepy Maai,
I was tired.
Them monsters,
They hurt me bad.

Strange as it may seem to you,
It feels like your warmth now.
It doesn’t hurt anymore.
The blood has dried
And it looks like the purple blossoms
That swayed with me in the meadows.
It doesn’t hurt, Maai.

The monsters are still out there..
And there are stories too.
Don’t listen to them Maai,
Gut wrenching and agonizing they are
And a lot you’ve gone through.

Lest I forget,
There’s a temple there
Where lives a goddess.
Thank her,
For I think it’s she who helped,

The horses find their way back home.

~ Mi



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Songs of Resistance: How music born out of revolutions stirs others

-Yogesh Pawar

Dongar phodto amhi / Dagada zodto amhi / Raktachya cementani / dharan bandhto amhi / Sukh tumhala… dukhamhala

(We break mountains/ put rocks together/ mix our blood with cement to build your dams/ Yet you have all the comforts/ And we get only sorrow)

Jungle jeevant thevto amhi / Raan supeek karto amhi / Ghaamane bhizooniya / pik pikvito amhi / Anna tumhalaupaas amhala

(We keep the forests alive/ make barren land fertile/ We bathe in our sweat/ to keep the fields green/ Yet, you have all the food/ And we have to go hungry)

As 38-year-old activist marching with the farmers, Sanjeev Shamanthul broke into this song, octogenarian Palghar resident Kamal Bohota’s eyes lit up. The elderly adivasi’s feet hurt and the sun made her dizzy as she marched bare feet with over 35,000 farmers in one of the biggest protest marches by farmers in recent times organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmer’s wing of the CPI(M) in Maharashtra along with other unions. Others gathered around her in the shade of a tree along the National Highway 7, still a good 95 km from Mumbai also began ambling robbing the march of its momentum.

Enthuse and inspire

The song seemed to change all that. Bohota asked people around to help her to her feet. “This is a march for our dignity as human beings. Now nothing can stop us,” she smiled and began marching again, biting her lips to keep the wincing pain of her bruised feet at bay. The farmers, largely tribals, walked from Nashik to Mumbai to picket the Maharashtra legislative assembly and demand rights to the land they have tilled for generations.

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While their dignified march and their sheer numbers saw the tribal farmers make news headlines, the way their songs of resistance from various people’s movements kept marchers mobilised, enthused and driven was also brought was not lost on those following this largest protest of its kind. Despite several marchers unable to formally read/write tv news crews, seasoned hacks (including yours faithfully) and even some activists were in for a surprise by how deeply aware the protesters were of what is going on in the country. A song they sang was quite telling: Saanga amhala Ambani, Adani, Tata kutha haay ho? / Saanga dhanacha saatha na aamcha waatakutha haay ho? Saanga dhanacha... (Tell us where are corporates have reached? / Tell us where they hold their stock of wealth and point out where is our share in it?) Ghaam shetaat amcha gala / Mallya-Modi aaytach gheunpala / Dhan chorancha, ha palnyacha phata kutha haay ho? Saanga dhanacha... (Our sweat soaks our fields/ Mallya-Modi make off with our hard-earned money/ Where is that path such theives take to run away?) Loni saarach tikda pala / Itha bhookena jeev ha zala / Dukaanwale dada amcha ration kutha haay ho? Saanga dhanacha (They make off with all the cream/ while we go hungry without a morsel/ Brother shopkeeper can you tell us where our subsidised food grains vanish?)

Songs that set you free

Who better than activist, revolutionary balladeer and music composer Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat – who has been performing songs of resistance for over three decades – to put this into perspective. He says these songs cut across divides to find an echo because they speak of freedom. “The powers-that-be want only one kind of cultural ethos, the one they dictate, to be forced down everyone’s throats. Movements like the Kisan Long March rudely awaken those drunk on power to remind them of diverse and multiple cultural identities. These identities find their own signature ways of articulating injustices and inequalities.”

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According to him given the hugely exploitative social structures in India “which keep discovering newer variants of exclusion and discrimination while cunningly reinforcing old ones,” there has been a legacy of songs of resistance going back even to the early 15th century. “Brahmanical hegemony denied this rich legacy any documentation and consciously even tried to invisibilise it. But even without access to the written word, Dalits and Adivasis have found their own way of keeping it alive aurally,” he explains and adds, “I’ve often been gobsmacked on coming face-to-face with elderly women who don’t know to read/write at all but can yet rattle off hundreds of such songs which they keep alive by singing.”

While echoing Bhagat’s views on the way Dalit bhakti poets’ articulate socio-religious expression of the revolt of the masses against discrimination, Kolkatan, social historian Meghana Kashyap says: “This phenomenon originated in Tamil Nadu but soon spread via what we now call Karnataka and Maharashtra, sweeping through the whole of North India. These works represented aspirations of the downtrodden as against interests of the twice born,” she scoffs but underlines how the Bhakti movement was itself peculiarly paradoxical. She cites works of saints like Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Eknath, Chokhamela, Kabir who trash Brahmanical orthodoxy at every opportunity available and admits that while these poets are accepted and are still sung by a large section of Dalits as an inspiration for anti-caste agitations across the country.

“But it is not really free of agenda,” Kashyap is quick to point out. “These saint-poets were accepted as part of the Bhakti poet canonicals only because – unlike latter Dalit compositions which talk of radical change through aggressive, quasi-militant protests – these poets kept to the domain of the sacred, often borrowing both nuances and paradigms from the very same dogmatic Hinduism they sought to attack.”

While agreeing with Kashyap, Bhagat credits Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar with recognising the power of culture to drive change and challenge inequality and discrimination very early on. “Babasaheb is on record to say how even ten of his speeches don’t pack as much power as one song by a shahir who takes awareness to masses. Annabhau Sathe, Namdeo Dhasal, Narayan Surve have all been influenced by this thought to take his message forward.”

Bengali flavour

Kashyap mentions the rich tradition of protest songs in Bengal that dates back to the 19th century and colonial period. “There was a tradition of questioning the social hierarchies in the Vaishnav tradition which found a lot of following in the region. The renaissance was a period of questioning and this led to the creation of many songs questioning society on its norms and mores,” she explains and adds, “The Kolkata of that was almost at the epicentre of political activities and the brand of politics practised here was essentially exclusive to its identity as the former political capital of India.”

She cites the instance Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894), an eminent novelist of Bengal who wrote the iconic Vande Mataram. “It would go on to become the rallying cry that inspired nationalists to protest colonial rule. The anti-partition movement of 1905 against the proposed division of Bengal also saw processions, slogans and songs become the order of the day. In fact Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) composed Amar Sonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal) around this time which later became the national anthem of Bangladesh when it came into being in 1971.”

She also points out the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August, 1945, saw widespread fear of nuclear warfare and the creation of protest songs against this new danger. “The Sylhet-born Hemanga Biswas’s Sankhachil comes to mind as one of the songs of that era still remembered by many.” The liberation war of Vietnam against America became a huge inspiration for many in the Left she points out, “This led to the protest chant, Amaar naamtomar naam; Vietnam Vietnam (My name, your name; Vietnam Vietnam) and Lorai lorai loraichai,/Lorai korey bachte chai;/Lorai korey peyechi ja,/Lorai korey rakhbo ta. (We need to fight, fight fight / Fight in order to survive;/ All that is achieved by fighting/ Will have to be retained by fighting),” and adds, “By 1975 this momentum saw wave of urban protests at Brigade Parade Ground (Maidan) led by the Left against the Emergency. Again new songs of resistance were being sung. Only they now took on a bite and aggression which had still not been seen.”

Over a 1,800 km away 65-year-old Shanker Singh, a founder member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan along with Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey agrees that biting aggression of the songs of resistance is necessary. Acknowledged as one of India’s leading figures in people’s theatre, for nearly two and a half decades he has combined activism with the power of people’s communication through street theatre, puppetry, song, and drama to strengthen the voice of the poor. In a signature style he underplays his uncanny, incisive wit and the keen political insight with which he instinctively communicates complex issues in an idiom familiar to the people.

“Yes. It is about making everything palatable to the masses but this is about giving myself also some relief. Just shouting slogans and making fiery speeches about the same issues again and again can become monotonous. This adds that element of entertainment without taking away from the spirit of what is being said.”

Another 1800 km to the South, Bangalorean writer, poet, artist-activist Du Saraswathi echoes Singh. She feels the songs’ outreach helps take the message of a movement far beyond speeches/talks. “It is important that such songs not only articulate concerns of people they seek to connect with, but also borrow their imagery, music and context. Otherwise they just cannot become effective tools of mobilisation/awareness generation.”

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She cites the instance of Kannada of Dalit poet, playwright, philosopher and cultural activist from Kotiganahalli Ramaiah who has written several such songs of resistance. “These are sung all over Karnataka by many belonging to different people’s movements but we need to revive and popularise the works of Kadiremmevve, Aydakki Lakkamma, Sule Sankvve and other non-Brahmin women who wrote vachanas (a genre of Kannada poetry) during the 12th Century. Whether them or Mudnakudu Chinaswamy, Subbu Holeyer, Anusuya Kamble, Hulikunte Murthy, they have still to be given their deserved pride of place for their immense socio-literary contribution,” laments Saraswathi.

Communist connect

Fellow Bangalorean and singer-composer Sunil Koshy (who has composed for Kannada films) speaks of how the narrative of the oppressor versus the oppressed has always resonated in the songs of resistance in God’s Own Country – Kerala. He recounts how this began when Socialist winds blew through the state in the late 50s. “A Communist Party-led ministry had been elected in Kerala in 1957, the 2nd elected Communist ministry anywhere in the world, after San Marino (off Italy). A special obelisk was erected in in memory of 1857 First War of Independence martyrs which included many unsung peasants and workers gave up their lives. A song to mark their martyrdom Balikudeerangale was written by legendary poet-lyricist Vayalar Ramavarma, and composed by the equally illustrious G Devarajan. This pair went on to become the most famous lyricist-composer team in Malayalam cinema bringing the songs of resistance from the streets to celluloid.”

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He remembers how the Communist agenda has been part of the narrative ever since. “Thulabharam(which started off with the socialist refrain ‘Workers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains!) Punnapra Vayalar (where the song “Comrades, Onward!” became a chartbuster), Mooladhanam(Named after Marx’s seminal work, this film began with a song ‘From every drop of blood shed for the cause, will arise a thousand comrades more!’) Ningalenne Communistakki, Anubhavangal Paalichakal, Neelakkannukal (A song here went, “We refuse to die, we refuse to be cowed down, and don’t you dare think you can make us go on bended knees to kiss the Capitalist behind!).” According to him songs from these iconic films have gone on to become movement anthems used to rouse, enthuse and mobilise. “In that sense the songs of resistance have come full circle.”

Singing socialists

Back in Mumbai, founding member of Stree Mukti Sanghatana, a women’s rights advocacy organisation Jyoti Mhapsekar remembers how socialists who helped create both the state of Maharashtra and the labour laws in India have also contributed in a big way in keeping the legacy of the songs of resistance going in Maharashtra. Having been raised in a commune by her socialist parents she should know. “Entertainment, awareness building, social responsibility and mass outreach were all packed together in these kalapathak songs which called out capitalists and oligarchs,” she remembers. Little wonder then that she would go on to create the iconic women’s rights play Mulgi Zhaali Ho. “Both performing other lyricists’ songs and composing my own came naturally to me since we’d been raised in that atmosphere.”

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She also points out how this genre always responded to changing facets of society with changes in both form and content. “Look at our song Ya deshatlya baayanaaaya bahinina saangaya zaayacha haay ga/ Eki karun ana ladhapukaaroon hyo turung phodaycha haay ga (We want to go call of women of this country/ the mothers and sisters/ to unite and fight/ to break down this prison of patriarchy)  or the Awaaz-E-Niswa song Mee Chaangli Tu Ghabrau Nako/ Aisa Khat Mein Likho which raised the issue of Muslim women left behind by their spouses who went to the Gulf for work. Such women faced both unwelcome attention from men as also unnecessary scrutiny from patriarchal family and neighbours.” It is this ability to stay with the contemporary that makes songs of resistance unique she insists.

Contemporary concerns

And who can talk about this aspect better than well-known classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal who has often used music as a platform to speak of social issues? “For decades I received requests to perform and help raise funds for awareness campaigns/social issues. As an artiste I had to decide- Do I just pick from my popular repertoire or include material relevant to the cause? Do I just go and belt out Abb Ke Sawan at an event honouring soldiers martyred in a war, or at an event raising funds for riot victims? Since this issue concerns me I have, over the years, worked on developing a repertoire that addresses specific issues close to my heart including poetry of protest and dissent,” she explains.

While she too credits saint-poet Kabir as the most powerful voice which spoke out against dogmas surrounding formal religion, as early as in the 16th century she underlines how others like Lalleshwari of Kashmir in the 14th century, and Gorakhnath who is believed to have lived in the 11th century have also pioneered in this direction. She feels what Kabir and the poets before him forms a continuum of sorts with a contemporary poetry of Dushyant Kumar or Gopaldas Neeraj. “The continuum is reflected in the fearlessness with which all three raise their voices. The ring of conviction in their work is inspiring, although their concerns may have been very different.”

While Mudgal has performed at several full length concerts dedicated to songs of resistance she admits it is difficult to cite a favourite. “In the recent past, Dushyant Kumar’s ghazal with the following sher /couplet has become a favourite: Tera nizam hai sil de zuban shayar ki / Ye ehtiyat zaruri hai is bahar ke liye. (Despots have always tried to silence poets / to ensure there oppression is not called out) It is acknowledgment of the strength of art and poetry. It represents fearless, courageous freedom that art endows on its believers and practitioners. Written during the Emergency, this ghazal holds true even in the times we live in today.”

Incidentally it is the late Dushyant Kumar’s song which got sung so many times at the Kisan Long March too!

Ho gayi hai peer parvat si, pighalni chaahiye / Is Himalay se koyi Ganga nikalni chahiye

(Sorrow has reached gigantic proportions like mountains, its time a soothing Ganges emerges out to alleviate the pain)

Aaj ye deewar pardon ki tarah hilney lagi / shart lekin thhi, ki yeh buniyaad hilni chahiye

(Yes, the walls have begun to tremble like a sheet of paper but our deal was to get the foundations shaken

Har gali mein, har shahar mein, har nagar, har gaon mein / Haath lehraatee hue, har laash chalni chahiye

(In every alley, road, town and village, every suffering body rise in protest)

Sirf hungaama khada karna mera maqsad nahin / saari koshish hai, ki yeh soorat badalni chahiye

(Rabble rousing is not my aim, my effort is to bring about change.

Mere seene mein nahintoh tere seene mein sahi / Ho kahin bhi aaglekin aag jalni chahiye

(If not in mine, then maybe yours – wherever it may be lit, but the point is that the torch must be lit!)

Resistance goes post-modern

In an era when rock, rap, pop, funk and fusion appeal more easily to larger musical sensibilities, it is no surprise that some are taking songs of resistance to the masses with this genre. One of the prominent names that comes to mind is Kabeer Shakya, who founded India’s first Buddhist rock band – Dhamma Wings. Having been raised in a home that practised Buddhism, the tenets of Gautam Buddha and B R Ambedkar came naturally to him. These philosophies got further crystallised during a short stint at a monastery in Bodh Gaya, Bihar to further learn the principles of Buddhism. “There I thought of making these teachings more accessible. The best way I knew was to weave it into music. While I speak of the larger values of humanity, I take care that the pacifism comes lined with a clear message of resistance and assertion.”

Kamal Bohota would surely like that…

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Kasganj violence culmination of tensions building up since UP election

In the wake of the Kasganj violence, Hindus say BJP’s win in last year’s polls had frustrated the Muslims and the latter accuse right-wing of becoming more aggressive after the saffron party came to power.

Snigdha Poonam
Hindustan Times, Kasganj
A week after clashes broke out, Kasganj remains on the edge with heavy security deployment.
A week after clashes broke out, Kasganj remains on the edge with heavy security deployment.(HT Photo)

By 9 am on January 26, Kasganj was set for a confrontation. The Hindu boys had arrived in Prabhu Park riding motorbikes and carrying tricolour and saffron flags to take out a Republic Day rally. The Muslim boys had finished decorating Baddunagar Chowk for a Republic Day celebration: rangoli, chairs, balloons, and a flagpole holding up the tricolour.

“This is the first time I joined the Republic Day rally from its origin. I was very excited,” said Mayank Maheshwari, a 19-year-old college student at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s office.

“We had put so much effort into organising the event this year. Everyone was here — old people, young people, children,” said a young resident of Baddunagar who identified himself as “doctor” Asif.

At 9.45 am, the Hindu rally— nearly 150 boys on nearly 70 motorbikes — rode out from the park. Seconds after, mobile phones in Baddunagar started buzzing with updates of the rally’s movement.

By 10.15 am, the town had turned into a battleground. The motorcycle procession charged into the narrow lane through Baddunagar, the Hindu boys demanded a passage, the Muslim boys stood their ground, the Hindu boys demanded the Muslim boys chant ‘Vande Mataram’ or leave India, the Muslim boys scoffed at the swagger, and as both sides later said in their accounts, there was “tu-tu-main-main”( verbal confrontation) and “haatha-pai”(physical fights).

Then things turned more violent. Overpowered by the Muslim boys, the Hindu boys left behind their bikes and ran away. They returned for revenge in 45 minutes, this time armed with lathis and firearms, to another Muslim-majority neighbourhood called Tehseel Road.

The two sides faced off again, someone in the crowd opened fire, and a bullet hit a 22-year-old man called Chandan Gupta. By the afternoon of January 26, he was declared dead at the government hospital. Over the next two days, several Muslims homes and shops were set on fire in retaliation.

A week into the first incident on January 26, Kasganj remains on edge. Some shops have opened, but the market is deserted. Policemen roam the streets in packs, and everyone claims that “everything is normal” until you ask them what they really think. There is only thing that unites the town: the belief that January 26 was just waiting to happen. Hindu-Muslim tensions had been building up in Kasganj, where their relationship largely remains “normal”, since the change of political regime in Uttar Pradesh in March. Long called a “bellwether” constituency, Kasganj, seat number 100 in the UP assembly, has voted for the winning party since 1974.

In March 2017, the BJP candidate from Kasganj defeated his Samajwadi rival by 52,030 votes, shifting the power dynamic between the town’s Hindus and Muslims. The last time Kasganj voted for the BJP was in 1991. The last communal riot in Kasganj was recorded in 1992.

Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel stand guard in Kasganj. (PTI File Photo)

“Yogi’s win first caused fear among the Muslims,” said Vinay Raj, a local businessman who leads the town’s chapter of the VHP. “Then, after some time, things returned to normal, but the feeling of frustration among them hasn’t left. They felt as if their votes lost their power,” he added.

This feeling, Raj said, was heightened in the Muslim-dominated areas of Kasganj. “When they are among us, they are fine, but when they are among their own, they are different,” said Raj. It is to remind Muslims of their place in Kasganj that the Hindu boys wanted to take their Republic Day rally through Baddunagar.

“Since the last elections, the Hindu community has been acting with aggression and impunity,” said Farooq Bhaddan, a community leader and an established businessman. The sentiment echoed through Baddunagar, where the rangoli was fading, the balloons had turned to shreds, and a piece of saffron cloth hung from an electrical wire crisscrossing the chowk. “If the intention was to celebrate Republic Day, why were people carrying saffron flags in that rally?” asked Asif.

“The tensions had been rising since January 23,” said Vinay Raj. Three days before Republic Day, an incident at the town’s historic Chamunda temple had set the Hindu-Muslim scene up for a climax. Situated in a Muslim-majority area, the temple’s premises are used by the local residents to park their vehicles.

The movement of Muslims through the temple property upsets the town’s Hindus and recurs as an election issue. One of the promises the BJP’s candidate had made in his 2017 manifesto was to build a gate across the walls. On the morning of January 23, the local administration had tried to initiate the process by putting up barricades. The areas Muslims had responded with protests and the Hindus with counter-protests.

“We have been demanding a gate for years,” said Vinay Raj. “They only demand a gate before elections,” said Farooq Bhaddan.

And last but not the least, there was the matter of slogans. “What is wrong with demanding that they say ‘Vande Mataram’ if they wish to live in India? It’s all about taking pride in your nation,” said Mayank Maheshwari, who was one of young men who took part in the rally on January 26..

“I have no problem with saying ‘Vande Mataram,”’ said Yusuf, “but of my own free will. I can say it a hundred times. But try to force me to say it, and you will fail.”

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My Lady Fingers Are Better Than My Bullets! #Poem


Death pressed 3 bullets on an old man
The old man uttered two words
On a God that Death did not know
The old man did not die
He walked past with a smile.

The old man became a Father
With three bullets on his chest.
Death was depressed.
`My bullets are wasted’ he cried.
He roamed around looking for fresh air
Used axes, swords, knives and bombs
But every effort bounced back.

Again he pressed bullets on writers
And they too did not die.
`My job is an occupational hazard
So let me try someone else’, he said.

Then he tried 3 bullets on a woman
Who stood by justice
With her skills of written words

Oh my God, even this one does’nt die

I just need a break he cried

I  am a useless bum
And I need to retire,’ said he.

Then he bought a piece of land
With currency notes having images
Of the Father he had shot
And planted lady fingers
With the teachings of Fukuoka
Calling his farm natural and organic
And for the first time in his life
Mr. Death laughed loud:
`My lady fingers are better
Than the smoke from my bullets’.

After all these incidents
When I entered his organic store
To get lady fingers for my sambar
They tasted life
A life that must stay!

K.P Sasi is a film maker, writer, activist and cartoonist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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